5 Top Sites to See While Visiting Japan
The Pacific island of Japan is a culturally rich nation filled with dense cities, fascinating national parks, and thousands of temples and shrines. The speedy Shinkansen bullet trains provide easy travel throughout Japan. Visitors who aren't familiar with Japan may find it daunting to decide which sites to see. Here is a list of 5 sites to consider for your itinerary in Japan.
Nara Park, Nara
Nara, Japan's former capital is easily reached by rail in under one hour from Kyoto or Osaka. The shrines and temples here are grouped together inside Nara Park (located in the city's center) while hundreds of sika deer roam free among small streams and ponds.
The Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Todai-Ji Temple, and other historic structures are located inside the park. The historic structures represent Japan over many centuries and they can all be easily seen within the beauty and serenity of Nara Park.
Matsumoto Castle, Nagano Prefecture, Matsumoto
Matsumoto Castle, also known as the Crow Castle is perhaps Japan's most famous castle as well as the most beautiful. Black walls have earned it the name of Crow Castle. It is the former seat of the Matsumoto Domain. Construction of the castle began in 1592.
Visitors remove their shoes at the entrance. Underneath low ceilings, the steep stairs pass displays of armor and weapons of the Sengoku period. Archers and gunmen once used the narrow windows; now they provide spectacular views of the Japanese Alps while swans circle in the moat below.
The historic castle can be reached by a 2 and 1/2 train ride from Tokyo.
Temples and Shrines of Kamakura
Kamakura is a seaside city south of Tokyo, and a must see if ever on a Japan tour. The city is home to dozens of Shinto shrines and Buddhist Zen temples including the Great Buddha at the Kotoku-in Temple. The Great Buddha survived the tsunami of the 15th century even though the building it was housed in did not.
The Zeniarai Benten Shrine is an interesting shrine to visit. Here you will be invited to "wash your money" to become blessed with doubling it. Visitors are invited to attend a traditional tea ceremony and view the Zen gardens at Jomyo-Ji.
Kamakura is a one-hour train ride from Tokyo. Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine, the largest Shinto Shrine is the closest point of interest to the train station. The temples and shrines of Kamakura are scattered throughout the city. Visitors can pick up a map of recommended routes at the Tourist Information Office located near the east exit of the train station. It features a 4-hour hiking route.
Ryoanji Temple and Rock Garden, Northwest Kyoto, Japan
Ryoanji Temple is also the site of Japan's famous rock garden. It was originally an aristocratic villa of the Heian Period. Converted into a Zen temple in 1450, it belongs to the Myoshinji school of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. The designer of the rock garden and its date of construction is not known. The meaning of the garden is not clear, but it is widely accepted that it represents a tiger carrying cubs across a pond. Another belief is that the garden's theme is infinity.
The garden is within sight of the Hojo, or head priest's former residence. The Hojo features interesting paintings on the sliding doors of the tatami rooms. Smaller gardens grace the rear of the Hojo.
The temple gardens include a beautiful park with walking trails and a restaurant that specializes in Kyoto specialty of Yudofu, or boiled tofu. These five sites provide a good taste of Japan's unique beauty and culture. They are sure to whet your appetite for more.